Alfred Stevens 1817-75 “Truth and Falsehood”: Truth tears out the double tongue of Falsehood and pushes aside the mask concealing his grotesque features. His serpent tails are exposed beneath the drapery. The group and its companion, “Valour and Cowardice”, are full size models for the bronze groups on the huge monument to the Duke of Wellington in St Paul’s Cathedral. London. Plaster. [explanatory notes on plaque, Victoria and Albert museum].
The current relevance of the statue is immediately obvious. However, my mind was thrown back to 1999 when a cabinet minister declared eloquently “If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it”. The resulting action led to his being jailed for perjury. I am sure the image shown here is of Truth defeating what were then Falsehoods which we now hold true: religious dogma defeating rationalism, self interest overcoming balanced enquiry, empire over civil society, autocracy scourging democracy. When the powerful shout loudly about the lies of others and frustrate open scrutiny, it is to cover their deceits.
Here are alternative versions of my sketches undertaken at the Victoria and Albert a week ago, reworked with conte crayon, paint, knife and (in the third image) digitally enhanced black tones. Rodin’s tortured twisted Muse spoke of a deeper truth than Stevens’ allegorical statue, of the anguish and beauty of human existence. The theatre masks are props to tell a fictional narrative but when the narrative finishes, the masks are removed.
On entering the second Turner Prize installation at the Tate Britain gallery, my son focussed first on Anthea Hamilton’s brick suit tailored from brick textile hanging against a brick mural. He turned back on himself to be confronted by a giant mooning butt. I could hear him guffawing as I followed. Like everyone else, we took turns photographing each other in that false doorway framed by giant thighs.
I was struck not by those giant buttocks but at what the sculptor had left out: there is no anus and no swell of genitalia above the doorway. I found myself reflecting with sadness and respect that the neat central line might be the scar left by a skilled surgeon when the choices were hard and stakes high.
Standing to one side and drawing, my thoughts changed to reflect a widespread mood of anger and despair. Perhaps this is a monumental statue of an emperor’s golden arse as he displays his power and contempt. But he is full of shit and has no balls.
It belongs in Trump Tower.